Amanda Balionis shares the inspiration behind her new charity, Puppies and Golf
Amanda Balionis has already had an eventful 2020 as a CBS sports reporter, but she’s also been busy with something else–launching Puppies and Golf, a non-profit that aims to facilitate connections between people and rescue dogs.
What started as a T-shirt collaboration is now a full-fledged charity that Balionis hopes can make an even bigger impact. We caught up with Amanda to learn about the organization, her thoughts on a crazy year and her hopes for 2021.
What inspired you to start Puppies and Golf?
I was volunteering for K9s for Warriors when I worked for the PGA Tour in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was really fulfilling and gratifying. It made me feel like more of a whole, well-rounded person. And then when I moved to San Diego and took my job with Callaway, all of a sudden I didn’t have that in my life, and I realized how important giving back was to me.
I had to find a way. A friend of mine owns an apparel company called “Puppies Make Me Happy,” and I thought, “Why don’t we do a ‘Puppies and Golf’ shirt?” We’ll have all the proceeds go to K9s for Warriors, so even if I can’t physically be volunteering, it’s still a great way to give back and, more importantly, spread awareness about this national organization. Callaway also joined the cause, allowing me to take over a hole at “Links at PetCo Park” and created some limited edition wedges that went up for auction. With all of that, we were able to raise over $30,000 and sponsor a dog.
When did you know that it was time to take Puppies and Golf to the next level?
When I started working for CBS, I went from working in one place to working 40 weeks a year on the road, and I started to feel the same way I felt when I moved to San Diego–that my life felt very surface level. I was living my dream, traveling around talking about golf and football, but it started to feel hollow again, like I wasn’t doing what I was meant to be doing.
I started to reach out to animal rescues in the cities that I was in and visit them on the road. The amount of work and selfless love that’s put into these dogs and these horrible stories that these dogs have are heartbreaking. The volunteers and the people that own these places are hemorrhaging money into this for no other reason than they want to do the right thing. I would visit the shelters and feature some of the dogs that were up for adoption on my Instagram, and I was absolutely blown away by the response.
Once I realized that I had something here that people were getting behind and were as passionate about as I was, I realized there was definitely room to grow Puppies and Golf into something bigger. I wanted to continue to support K9s for Warriors but also all of these incredible animal rescues across the country and connect them to the golf community who seemed to have this huge passion for dogs. Everyone loves golf. Everyone loves dogs. And when you combine the two, great things happen.
What’s the overall mission of Puppies and Golf?
Our mission is to bring awareness and education to adoption over buying a dog from a breeder. It’s also to financially support shelters that are doing the hard work in making sure these dogs find a home and organizations that are ensuring that people’s lives are being enhanced with these dog-to-human connections. I want Puppies and Golf to be a resource for people, not only for education, but if people are thinking about adopting or fostering for the first time, they can find everything they need on our website. I want to be a proactive resource rather than a reactive place where people can donate, which of course they will be able to do as well.
What can we expect to see from Puppies and Golf in 2021 and beyond?
Our fundraising just got started and hopefully we’ll be able to start having more events. We did our first brick-and-mortar event this year during Farmers Insurance Open week in San Diego, which was a huge success, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more of those across the country when it’s safe to do so. You’ll see collaborations with like-minded companies to help raise funds and awareness, and we’ll start giving out grants to the shelters and organizations that need our help.
I’ll also continue going to shelters and bringing awareness via social media, so we can get these animals homes!
How can people support Puppies and Golf?
If you got to PuppiesandGolf.org, there’s a donation button, which, of course, we always appreciate. But you can also check out our merchandise section! We have shirts, baby onesies and bibs, “Lift Clean and Place” soap and dog treats. Donate, buy some merch, spread the word! Awareness is probably the most important thing right now to help us get off the ground and start making an immediate impact.
If it’s good enough for the best golfers in the world, it’s good enough for the rest of us!
Not only have you launched a non-profit in 2020, but it’s been a crazy year in terms of your day job. How would you describe the year as a whole?
It was a year unlike any other, as I’m sure everyone else on this planet can say. I have an even greater appreciation for golf now. The fact that we can, as a golf community, function in the most normal capacity compared to any other sport. Even covering it on CBS, of course everything was different with strict safety regulations and no fans, but we still got to watch the best golfers in the world play the best golf courses in the world and compete, which gave us a sense of normalcy that I think all of us had been craving. So I do feel like golf, especially during COVID, has been such a saving grace from a professional level all the way down to those trying it for the first time just because there was literally nothing else you can safely do.
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
It not being 2020 anymore. Is that a good answer? Honestly, seeing fans at tournaments. I want to see that connection that sports provides all of us. Because that’s why I fell in love with the career path that I chose. I love seeing the athletes interact with the fans. It’s the ultimate connection between people no matter where they come from, who they are, what they look like. Everyone is there rooting for or against someone. Everyone is there for the same reason. I think sports is the great equalizer. I think we have all really missed those great moments that we saw in 2020 that would’ve been amplified and remembered forever because fans made it that way. So we’re ready to bring the fans back and those historic moments that we’ll be talking about forever.